When it comes to walking off the field having not allowed any points to an opponent, that confidence can easily carry over to the next game, and lay the foundation of what kind of defense the group wants to be.
The first team this season to shut out a BCS team, former Wisconsin safety Christ Maragos could easily see the improvements made by his former teammates from week one to week two, a good thing seeing as Wisconsin's opponent this week has a strong offense and a former defensive coordinator as its head coach.
In our weekly feature, Maragos talks about the strides he's seen on defense, the and the challenge Northern Illinois presents.
Badger Nation: To shut a team out, no matter what level you are playing or who you are playing, how hard is it to shut a team down completely offensively?
Maragos: It certainly is difficult and that's why you don't see a lot of shutouts in college or the pros because every team has talent. It don't matter who you are because anytime you are shutting out a team, you are doing pretty good. Obviously there are a lot of things that are involved in that like the kicking game, field position and what the offense is doing, but the defense did pretty darn good.
Badger Nation: What impressed you about Marcus Cromartie? You got to play with him a couple years and with Devin Smith being out because of injury, do you think he'll go from ‘on the cusp' of breaking out to actually breaking out?
Maragos: I was impressed. I'll tell you what, from where he was when we first came there to where he is now, he's light years ahead. He's made huge strides. He's a different player from when he first stepped on campus to where he is now. He did a 180. He's always had the talent and the speed, but he's put it all together now. He's still got things to work on and improve on, but I am very impressed with the way he stepped in and played. He was aggressive. He tackled hard, made some good stops and covered well.
Badger Nation: Describe Marcus Cromartie then and describe Marcus Cromartie now?
Maragos: He always played very passionately ever since I can remember. He played hard, but I just think he was raw in his skill set. He didn't know how to use it. He didn't know the game and how to deal with what he had. Now, the biggest thing is he's focused. He gets it. It clicked. Last week was a big week for and I really think he has really evolved himself. He's really putting a lot of things together and I think a lot a people are anxious to see what he can do.
Badger Nation: When Devin went down and they moved Cromartie to corner, the coaches shifted Shelton Johnson from strong safety to nickel corner in the ‘Badger' package and brought Dezmen Southward into Johnson's spot. How impressive is it that Johnson can succeed at both of those positions, seeing as he finished the game with a career-high three TFLs?
Maragos: I think a guy like that who can cover and play aggressive, especially in the nickel spot where you can cover in man-to-man and drop down into some zone defenses, that's valuable. He's real long and lean, and he'll come up and hit you because he's a smart, solid player. He stepped in and did a nice job and I think they are really gelling as a defensive back field right now. With Antonio Fenelus doing what he's doing right now, the defense will really be able to dictate what opposing offenses do.
Badger Nation: Fenelus is playing at a high level and he's doing it against receivers that are noticeably taller than him. What's the key for a corner or a safety to go against a bigger receiver in addition to have spot-on technique so a guy can play taller than his actual height?
Maragos: You have to control the receiver. You have to stay on the top shoulder. As a smaller guy, you don't want to be in the trail position. What Fenelus is doing a really good job of is on the fade balls. Early in the game, they tried to throw a fade ball and he slipped positions with the receiver and what he did is called a lean and locate. He looked back for the ball and really what that did was push the receiver off his landmark. By the time the ball got to where it was intended to go, Fenelus was in the spot meant for the receiver should have been and the play was broken up. Plays like that are putting him in position to make plays and make himself appear taller than he is. He is playing with a lot of confidence and swagger.
Badger Nation: Coaches say the biggest jump a team makes during the season is week one to week two. From a defensive perspective, where did this defense really improve?
Maragos: Definitely the tackling to the better. In the first week, it's tough to get your angles down and get a feel for how you are going to attack things, the run fits and gaps and the speed. The fourth-down play in the third quarter was a perfect example. You saw Shelton Johnson make the play, but Aaron Henry was there. Although he missed the tackle, Henry missed it with leverage and the runner cut the ball back inside where the pursuit is. All the coaches do such a great job of coaching that. That play really put the nail in the coffin, and those are big plays that really make differences.
Badger Nation: We talked about the positives of the defense. Where do you think this defense needs to improve moving forward?
Maragos: I think they need to continue to pay attention to details. I think when you play these lesser opponents with teams that might not have as much talent, you can get away with some things and still make plays and not stick out as much. When you go against a team like Nebraska or Michigan State, teams with more talent and are disciplined, those things that you might have gotten away with before will get exposed even more so. I think as the team continues to take care of the details and continues to perfect the craft at their positions, they'll continue to get better, and that will only come out in time.
Badger Nation: How well do you think Dave Doeren knows the players and schemes that make up Wisconsin's offense and defense? How much of advantage do you think that is?
Maragos: He definitely understands the personal and the strengths and weaknesses, no question. The thing with Coach Doeren is, no matter if he's been in the system or not, he's a really smart guy. He really understands the x's and o's of the game. He's a very bright guy and I loved playing for him. He was absolutely phenomenal and Northern Illinois is going to have a good plan and give Wisconsin a tough game. It's going to be Wisconsin's toughest match-up before the Nebraska game and the team is going to be challenged in order to brush up on the things that might not have been exposed yet. It's going to be a good test because NIU plays solid football and Coach Doeren is going to have a great game plan.
Badger Nation: Having spent so much time in Wisconsin's defense and having been away from it in two years, how much has it changed from the time you played under Doeren to now under Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge?
Maragos: I think there a lot of similarities, but they are doing some things that are different. I've gotten to know Coach Ash from having been around him and he's a really smart guy. Coach Partridge is a smart guy, too, when it comes to analogies and adding different wrinkles to what they have got. They are really doing a good job of using the personal and putting them in positions to have success based on what they do well. There are so many coverages and different things you do that truthfully, it comes down to how the players execute it.
Badger Nation: From your knowledge, what are some of the wrinkles they have added?
Maragos: You can some of their techniques are different. I can't speak to their defensive alignment and things like that but the secondary has changed some things up, put guys in different positions and put some extra DBs in for certain situations. They are doing a good jog disguising some things at the beginning of the snap to conceal what their schemes are.
Badger Nation: Wisconsin is a 16.5 point favorite against a Northern Illinois that gave up over 500 yards of offense to Kansas. You are 2-0 on the season but alluding to what you mentioned, I think we both feel this is going to be a close game.
Maragos: (NIU senior quarterback) Chandler Harnish is a really good quarterback and his receivers are talented with good ball skills and run good routes, which means it will be a good test for the secondary. They have, I believe, some offensive linemen with some experience. Even with NIU's defense struggling last game, Coach Doeren has practiced against Wisconsin's offense for so long that he's going to have a good game plan. They are going to be playing hard.
It's going to be a good game and I think the Badgers are definitely going to win. I am excited for these guys to face an opponent that is really going to give them a tough match-up that is going to face them to dig down, dig deep and really get them outside of their comfort zone. I think it's going to be 38-21 UW.
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